Space Odyssey”, “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, “Avatar” and other Oscar-winning films.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, 1969

Filming “Space Odyssey” was a time-consuming process: director Stanley Kubrick followed every detail in the film, from the special effects to what fabric was used in the actors’ costumes. Ideas, designs, and even the script were constantly changing – and the team had to adjust. The scale struck the imagination: Kubrick used models of ships of different sizes, experimented with pavilions, and built impressive structures like a centrifuge, on which the characters walk in one of the scenes. But revolutionary was the final scene of the film, in which the protagonist experiences an almost psychedelic experience in space and sees strange colors and shapes – for her, special effects artist Douglas Trumball came up with a special technology of “slot shooting”: a flap with a thin slit is put in front of the camera. It makes many narrow shots, and then they are glued into one picture. It turns out an extraordinary, deformed image – before the “Odyssey” in the movie never did.

Star Wars. Episode IV: A New Hope

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, 1978

When George Lucas conceived his Star Wars, he knew that the film had to have special effects that had never happened before in the movies, and for this, he needed a special team. Lucas met John Dykestroy, who gathered his familiar students, artists, and engineers – and so there was Industrial Light & Magic, the most influential company for creating visual effects in the world. “A New Hope” (then the film was simply called “Star Wars”) was their first work, but the film has long been considered the standard of special effects. Lightsaber duels, space battles, incredibly detailed models of spaceships – A New Hope looked like no other film before. Several revolutionary technologies were also applied here: motion control, which allowed you to dynamically shoot an object against the background of a green screen (previously this could only be done statically), as well as computer graphics – when the rebels discuss a plan to attack the Death Star, the viewer sees the image generated on the computer.


Academy Award for Special Achievement, 1979

At the 51st Academy Awards, the Visual Effects Award was not given out at all, but the team that worked on the effects in Superman received the Award for Special Achievements. Funnily enough, but the main and most revolutionary effect in “Superman” is the film’s opening credits. These are the first-ever credits made with the help of a computer. But in the film itself, too, there is something to see: before “Superman,” a believable and exciting film about a superhero to imagine was simply impossible because the technology did not allow such a shoot, and by the end of the 1970s, they still reached something. For example, for Superman to fly, several techniques were used at once: the most revolutionary was the combination of front projection (this is when actors are shot on a pre-shot and projected background; you probably noticed this in old films when the characters are driving in a car) and cameras with a zoom lens – thanks to a simple trick by modern standards, actor Christopher Reeve really seemed to be flying.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, 1992

In 1989, James Cameron directed the film “The Abyss,” in one of the scenes in which aliens manipulate water to come into contact with people – and a column of water takes the form of a human face. The effect looked really great, but it took six months to create a 75-second scene. This technology came in handy Cameron three years later: in the “Terminator,” there is a robot T-1000, consisting of liquid metal and able to change shape. Aside from this undeniably cool effect that everyone was discussing in 1991, Terminator 2 was a real breakthrough for computer graphics in movies: it was the first film in which a personal computer was used to create 3D effects, the first film to use motion-capture technology, and the first film to feature a character partially generated on a computer.

Jurassic Park

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, 1994

“Jurassic Park” will forever remain the standard of the symbiosis of the old and the new in cinema. To create realistic dinosaurs, director Steven Spielberg decided to turn simultaneously to the technologies of the past and the future: he used both practical effects, that is, animatronic dolls, and still newfangled computer graphics for 1994 – although the second was more. Despite all the merits of “Terminator 2”, it was “Park” that became a turning point for computer graphics: Spielberg showed that it could be not just a gimmick, not just a pleasant bonus in the film, but his heart and soul, and that it is with the help of computer graphics that you can create real magic. At the time of the film’s release in Hollywood, there were few specialists in CGI(computer-generated imagery) after its release of the new technology went to learn all. According to film historian Tom Sean, the visual effects revolution that Jurassic Park staged was akin to the 1927 film revolution, when sound appeared in films. Remember the company Industrial Light & Magic that once came together to work on Star Wars? For “Jurassic Park,” she received her 13th Oscar.

The Matrix

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, 2000

The merits of the “Matrix” lie not so much in the plane of technological achievements as in the plane of mass perception of visual effects. Thanks to the “Matrix,” an effect is known as “bullet time” appeared – when the camera moves around or near a frozen object. John Gaeta, who was responsible for the effects in the film, used 122 cameras for the “bullet time,” which stood around the actors and quickly shot a large number of static frames with a flash – and then everything came together on a computer. The effect immediately began to be copied everywhere, from movies and movies to advertising, and it quickly became a standard part of the special effects language. At the same time, if “Jurassic Park” changed the views of industry representatives on computer graphics, then “The Matrix” did the same with the audience – the attitude to computer effects changed once and for all. After 1999 no self-respecting blockbuster was released without CGI.

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The Lord of the Rings

2002 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

Humankind was lucky that such an ambitious man as Peter Jackson took up the film adaptation of john R.R. Tolkien’s novel – without him, perhaps, it would not have turned out so beautiful and not so large-scale, and with him, the trilogy became a real event that greatly influenced the way modern cinema looks. The Lord of the Rings was the first film to use artificial intelligence to create a crowd effect and depict two fighting armies. Back in 1996, Jackson’s studio began work on a program called Massive — the goal was to use it for complex battle scenes. Massive can generate up to 70,000 characters: each of them is created randomly, the appearance and behavior of the character are affected by thousands of criteria to make them all look different. So if you’re wondering why the thousands of orcs and elves in the film look so believable, the AI is responsible. But the achievements of “The Lord of the Rings” do not end there. A year later, the second Lord of the Rings also won an Oscar for visual effects. One of the reasons was definitely Gollum. The first imposing character was created entirely with motion-capture technology. Moreover, he was played by the genius of computer roles Andy Serkis.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest

2007 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

For a long time, the motion-capture technology worked very simply: the actor was dressed in a funny tight suit, hung with balls, filmed in a separate pavilion on a green screen, a computer recorded his movements, and then any 3D model could be drawn on top of these movements. With the development of film technology, the real and virtual world continued to converge, computer characters became more and more – and it became simply inconvenient to shoot real actors in the scenery and then computer actors in a separate pavilion. Industrial Light & Magic corrected the situation in the mid-2000s: for the second part of Pirates of the Caribbean, the same one where Davy Jones, a pirate with tentacles on his face, appears, they came up with the Imocap technology. In fact, this is a traditional motion-capture but combined with traditional shooting. The actors, as usual, wear a tight suit with balls – but walk among the scenery with everyone else, they are shot by several cameras, and the special effects artists then naturally weave them into the film.

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2010 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

Such a list can not do without “Avatar” – although to describe what exactly James Cameron did with the visual effects in his film. You will have to bury yourself in the technical jungle: suffice it to say that he used almost all the developments that we listed before but just used them better, bigger, and more beautiful. Cameron waited 12 years to shoot “Avatar” – simply because the technology for a long time did not allow it. He created an absolutely believable and exciting computer world in cinema, perfecting existing technologies; perhaps that is why some viewers fell in love with the blue aliens Na’vi and wanted to go to the planet Pandora. To name a bant, the motion-capture technology in Avatar worked bigger and clearer than ever, including the exact reproduction of the actors’ facial features; the cameramen in the film could shoot computer scenes in real-time – they moved the camera, looked at the actors, and at the same time saw na’vi on the screen; moreover, the rendering of the final image also took place in real-time, so many things could be changed directly during filming, and not in post-production. Finally, the film introduced the fashion for 3D in cinema – and, probably, it would have remained the only successful example of the use of this technology, if not for the final point of this ten.


2014 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

The latest joint film was directed by Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubetzky and their main technical achievement. “Gravity” is practical “Avatar” on the contrary: instead of placing virtual characters in the real world, they put real actors in a virtual world. 80% of Gravity is CGI. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney filmed in the pavilion, and then they were superimposed on computer suits in computer space. One of the secrets why “Gravity” turned out to be so beautiful, is the lighting. Modern computer graphics are not let down by the quality of the picture, but by light, which has not yet really learned to simulate, which plays a big role in cinema. Lubetzky and Cuaron carefully analyzed how light works in space and then made a system of 1.8 million LED bulbs, with which they illuminated the actors. In addition, the film uses 3D exceptionally witty: to convey the feeling of space, in which, in addition to the conditional top and bottom, there is also depth, Lubetzky turns the camera very much and masterfully – and 3D only enhances the effect of immersion.


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